When University of the Arts in Philadelphia abruptly announced last week it would close, the surprise move unleashed a frenzy of other colleges rushing in to nab the suddenly orphaned students.

Roughly a dozen schools posted their pitches to UArts students on social media, boasting incentives that ranged from automatic admissions to steep discounts on tuition and dorms. 

Ursinus College, a private school with 1,500 students in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, is offering a 50% discount on its roughly $60,000 tuition to UArts students. So is Drexel University, a larger institution about two miles away from the shuttering campus in Philadelphia. Point Park University, located in downtown Pittsburgh, offered a semester of free housing for as many as 75 students. A spokesperson for La Salle University—which has been experiencing its own challenges—said there is no limit to the number of students the school can matriculate. And The College of New Jersey extended its application deadline and waived fees. 

The economics of higher education mean that one school’s closure can boost much needed head count at a competitor. For a small college that’s seen enrollment dwindle or stagnate, even the addition of a few tuition-paying students can have an impact. This year has been especially difficult for higher education administrators after issues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, muddled how many freshman will come to campuses in the fall. 

UArts was lambasted online for the lack of warning it gave to students and staff about its deteriorating finances. The school put out a release on May 31 that it would be closing seven days later. That unusually swift pace led to a class-action lawsuit by employees who allege the school violated a state employment law requiring a written notice at least 60 days before a mass layoff. 

The decision also left current students—as well as those expected to start in the fall—scrambling. 

Sarah MacLeod, who would have started her junior year after summer break as a fine arts major, said students were stripped of the opportunity to say goodbye to their classmates and campus. 

“Even if we just get another semester, that’s all that we wanted, just some time,” MacLeod, 19, said. She is also minoring in sculpture and art history.

UArts isn’t alone. A bevy of colleges have announced closures this year as rising expenses and fewer students pinch bottom lines. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in January announced it would wind down its degree-granting programs. At the time, it said University of the Arts was an option for some students to transfer to.

“It’s really frightening to see these institutions go down so easily,” said MacLeod, who has been protesting the closure. “They promised us an education, they promised us a home and then they ripped it away. How are we supposed to know that no other school will do the same thing?”

Ursinus welcomes The University of the Arts students to consider Ursinus. With a 50% tuition discount for UArts students and many program options, we invite interested students to join our Zoom information session on Monday, June 10 from 1-2 p.m.
— Ursinus College (@UrsinusCollege) June 4, 2024

While options exist for students to transfer elsewhere, many are frustrated by having to do so - especially given those who attended UArts have highly specialized areas of study, like animation.

Alexis Shandor, a rising sophomore, is considering transferring to Temple University, also in Philadelphia. But Temple is roughly 20-times the size of UArts. 

“It feels like we’re kind of left in the dark,” Shandor said. At a new institution, she is worried about losing the sense of community she had at UArts.

Marlin Collingwood, vice president of enrollment management at Point Park University, said the situation is traumatic for transfer students and the school’s first priority is to help as many of them as possible. But he added that he’s excited about the chance to add more students, noting the tough environment for higher ed now. 

A major hurdle has been presented by the bungled rollout of FAFSA, which has made it harder to predict freshmen attendance. “There’s more uncertainty around enrollment right now than there was during Covid,” he said.

Collingwood said the school has heard from as many as 175 UArts students. The dance program is already full and working to accept more students, he said.

Disruption on Campus
The unwind has been messy. UArts President Kerry Walk suddenly resigned just days after the closure announcement. Walk was the former president of Marymount Manhattan College which announced last month it would be absorbed by Northeastern. 

University of the Arts lost its accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education last week. The organization chastised the college saying it hasn’t complied with requests for documentation.

“Our Commission does and can help institutions close well and with integrity; however, we cannot do it with a day’s or week’s notice,” said Heather Perfetti, the commission’s president in a statement. 

Students are protesting the closure decision and have held demonstrations, which consisted of live band performances, singing, dancing and art.

MaryStarr Hope, 47, is a mid-career professional dancer who was seeking a master of fine arts in dance at UArts. As part of the program, students spend their first summer term in Montpellier, France, working with professionals and participating in the city’s dance festival.

Hope spent a year preparing materials for the program application and childcare so she could attend the summer term abroad. She is holding out hope that the program may be picked up by another institution but recognizes the likelihood is slim.

“That’s a little bit of wishful thinking,” she said. 

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.